Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Bradley Manning

From the New York Times:

A military judge on Tuesday found Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of “aiding the enemy” for his release of hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks for publication on the Internet, rejecting the government’s unprecedented effort to bring such a charge in a leak case.

But the judge in the court-martial, Col. Denise R. Lind, convicted Private Manning of six counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and most of the other crimes he was charged with. He faces a theoretical maximum sentence of 136 years in prison, although legal experts said the actual term was likely to be much shorter.

While advocates of open government celebrated his acquittal on the most serious charge, the case still appears destined to stand as a fierce warning to any government employee who is tempted to make public vast numbers of secret documents. Private Manning’s actions lifted a veil on American military and diplomatic activities around the world, and engendered a broad debate over what information should become public, how the government treats leakers, and what happens to those who see themselves as whistle-blowers.

I am not sure if I see PFC Manning as a hero as some do, nor do I see him as a villain.  I’m not a psychologist, and even if I was, I wouldn’t try to analyze him from a distance based on the evidence presented.  I don’t know if he got duped into doing what he did by the folks at Wikileaks or whether he actually thought he was doing the country some good.

But for whatever reason, the result is probably not what he wanted, either personally or for the country.  He probably knew he was going to end up in the stockade and he may have even felt it was worth it.  But for all the thousands of documents leaked, how have they changed the course of the wars, the way they are conducted, and the practices of keeping secrets?

Whistleblowers seek to put a stop to things they see happening that are wrong.  In the case of PFC Manning, nothing much has changed.  And he will have a long time to decide if it was worth it.

4 barks and woofs on “On Bradley Manning

  1. “Aiding the enemy” wouldn’t have stood up: Manning didn’t turn the docs over to al Qaida, he published them to everyone. For that charge to stick he’d have to have handed the data to AQ directly.

    Part of the problem with undoing the Shrub security state constructs is that, now they’re in place, all the national security apparata and legal foundation apply. We can’t just turn it all off; we need a body of legal decisions and jurisprudence confirming that the GWoT military/intelligence constructs exceed the law in concrete, demonstrable ways. And it’s likely that at least a small portion of all that has merit in the digital age: with so many services promising security and intrusion/decryption-proof content there are enough ways for questionably legal (if not definitively illegal) communications to pass outside traditional channels that could legally be observed with the proper authorizations.

    Shrub’s mistake wasn’t enhancing the means to collect intelligence to include Internet-based traffic. Shrub’s mistake was building a construct that did so automatically, without oversight, permission, or any meaningful limit.

  2. I am of mixed feelings as well.

    However I must take issue with one of your comments: “But for all the thousands of documents leaked, how have they changed the course of the wars, the way they are conducted, and the practices of keeping secrets?”

    The answer is, clearly, “They haven’t.”

    But the same could be said of Daniel Ellsberg and his release of the “Pentagon Papers” over 40 years ago. One might have asked Ellsberg, “…how have they changed the course of the wars, the way they are conducted, and the practices of keeping secrets?”

    Such releases seem to be part of the ebb and flow of secrecy/openness in our government.

    To quote the Wikipedia entry on the Pentagon papers:

    A 1996 article in The New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers “demonstrated, among other things, that the Lyndon Baines Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”.[2] The report was declassified and publicly released in June 2011.

    I think it is always important to know when our government lies “about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”

    For better or worse Manning is just the most recent conduit revealing these lies.

  3. I don’t have mixed feelings. I think the guy is a dick, pure and simple. This is NOT the Pentagon Papers. This is SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND documents, and he has NO idea what’s in them, what harm he’s one, or the lives he’s endangered. This is nothing more then the electronic equivalent of shooting up a crowded theater or an elementary school. It’s an act that allows a little man who never would have amounted to anything to bask momentarily in the notoriety. I hope he spends the rest of his life in Levenworth.

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